Embracing change, Engility emerges on top

One of Engility’s strengths is in training global development workers. Above, a scene from a global climate change training in Bangkok that was organized by the U.S. consulting firm. Photo by: Alisia Kachmar / Engility

Can you combine the strong culture and tight focus of a small company with the resources and ability to scale up projects that are usually associated with larger firms? Can organizations stay nimble, responsive, and innovative as they grow? Engility’s answer would be a clear yes.

Engility says it’s taking the 35 years of experience and expertise of development contractor International Resources Group and leveraging its resources to create an even stronger partner in development for government agencies and others.  

Engility may be a new name in the international development community, created 18 months ago as a combination of six different companies that were spun off from the government services giant L-3. But IRG, which is now Engility’s international development division, was well known to many in the development community for its work with the U.S. Agency for International Development, especially in the areas of energy, natural resources and training.

IRG was known as a training powerhouse at USAID, for which it has provided a wide range of training since 2004. The company crafted the core curriculum for USAID staff, from project design and management training to certification training for contracting officer’s representatives and agreement officer’s representatives — the agency’s contract managers. It also provided critical training to individual missions, including for provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq.

Engility will continue to provide that critical support to USAID under a five-year, $60 million follow-on contract awarded in December.

"We take that as a seal of approval of what we've been doing," said Michelle Defayette, director of Engility’s Integrated Learning Solutions practice area. Engility’s work to institutionalize training at USAID and elsewhere has set an industry standard, according to the organization’s staff, and lessons learned will feed into upcoming programs.

Any corporate revamp comes with hiccups — especially one that is being implemented at breakneck speed as this one was — but staff say they can already see the benefits of being part of a larger organization, whether through improved back-office support for clients, streamlined operations or more resources to ensure projects deliver results.

“It's an incredibly exciting time,” said Timothy Knight, who worked with IRG for 14 years and is now a vice president and general manager for Engility’s international development division. “There's a renewed energy about this place, and I think it's reflected in our position in the market — we're winning more things, we're engaged in more things, and we've got younger people who are involved in more things.”

What's more, said Philip Decosse, who has been with the company for 21 years and is now vice president for business development, “In this new Engility environment, we are retaining the long-standing commitment to thought leadership that has defined IRG for decades.”

With the resources of a larger company and the “backbone of support” that it provides, Engility’s international development division focuses on high-impact projects such as improving the power supply in Pakistan or developing value chains and increasing agricultural production in Senegal.

“IRG had been a little bit of a boutique company, and being a part of Engility is really going to help us develop our capabilities and maximize them,” said Knight, adding that the merger has also imposed a business discipline that will benefit the company and its clients.

The international development division will continue to focus on training, energy, water and environment, agriculture and food security, transition and stability, and disaster preparedness and response. And, importantly to those who work there and its long-time partners, the company has retained the culture and human capital — more than 370 employees in 15 countries worldwide in addition to 140 employees at the home office in Washington — that have made it so successful over the years. Of the Washington-based staff that are part of the international development division, 60 percent speak two or more languages, 75 percent have visited 10 or more countries, and 67 percent have worked overseas for at least three months. Thanks to its passion for international development, staff members see themselves as “a contractor with the heart of an NGO.”

A tradition of innovation and impact: Asif Shaikh, IRG and Engility

“We've got people you can drop anyplace in the world, they can set up a projects quickly, set up those operations, get them up and running, and ensure that they’re done with integrity,” said Knight. “We’ve been doing it for more than 30 years.”

To train the next generation of leaders, Engility makes it a point to include young employees, along with more experienced staff, on “capture teams” that gather intelligence for contract bids around the world.

“These people get excited; they go out, they work their butts off and they bring back great information that helps us be more successful as a company,” Knight said. “They smell the smoke, and they can tell there's opportunity here.”

Ensuring that the division is able to retain that culture and talent has been an important goal for Engility.

“Each of the companies that formed Engility had an equal birthright to create and shape its values, culture and brand and, as a result, Engility is as much a partner to USAID as it is to its other valued customers,” said Tony Smeraglinolo, Engility’s president and CEO. “International development is a vibrant and integral part of Engility’s business portfolio.”

And the company has already found common ground across divisions, and strength in unity.

One of the clearest examples is in the training support it provides to a number of clients as part of its broader focus on “learning solutions.” Drawing on the intellectual and technical strengths across its divisions, Engility is creating a Training Center for Excellence, a move that will be a boon for the international development group’s main client, USAID.

Engility’s new training center will provide learning solutions and subject matter expertise for personnel in the field, including through interactive fora and knowledge sharing.

“We want to become a learning organization, and we strive to improve the process of learning,” said David Lemelin, the center’s director.

Importantly for USAID, the company is also going to move its training space this summer to a new location within a few blocks of USAID headquarters.

Engility’s training center is seen as an example of the type of initiative that makes the company more than the sum of its parts, and an even stronger partner for its clients.

Learn more about Engility and how you may engage with the organization!

About the author

  • Paul Stephens

    Paul Stephens is a former Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost, and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia: one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.